BOONVILLE — A former priest pleaded guilty to sexually abusing three teenage boys in the 1980s during his time as a priest in Boonville and after he left the parish.
Gerald Howard entered a guilty plea Tuesday afternoon to two counts of forcible sodomy and one count of attempted forcible sodomy that earned him 12 years in prison.
In accepting the plea deal from Cooper County prosecutor Doug Abele, Howard admitted to three sexual incidents involving three young boys in 1984 and 1985, according to online court records.
Four other felony charges, including kidnapping, were dismissed as a result of his plea agreement.
Cooper County Circuit Judge Robert Koffman accepted the plea after noting the gravity of the crimes he committed against the boys, referred to as "John Doe 1," "John Doe 2" and "John Doe 3" in court documents.
"Every one of the victims were children and really had their lives turned around by what you've pleaded guilty to today," Koffman said.
He also said that the victims did not feel Howard's sentence would be enough to compensate for the pain he had caused them.
"They live a full lifetime of punishment, which is worse than what you're getting." he said.
Mark McAllister, who revealed himself as "John Doe 1", has spoken publicly about the abuse he received from Howard. He told the Missourian in 2012 that the priest had provided him with drugs and alcohol before taking advantage of him.
The priest began sexually abusing him within months of arriving at the parish, when McAllister was 13, he said, and it continued until he was 18.
After Howard entered his guilty plea, the mother of one of the victims said in an interview that the sentence was not enough to compensate for the pain he'd caused.
"There is such a heartbreak," she said. "They have a lot of hurt that stays with them constantly."
The mother, whose name is being withheld because the Missourian does not name family members of those who have been sexually abused when it could identify the victims, said that Howard had begun abusing her son when he was about 12 years old.
In his time at Saints Peter and Paul Church and School, she said, he gave great sermons. She described Howard as "charismatic" but "evidently very sick."
She said she hopes more victims will speak out against their abusers to bring them to justice.
"I feel very sad for all victims, and the way, I think, to overcome this is for victims to speak out and become free," she said. "Then their perpetrators will be caught and humiliated because they have taken something from them and they should feel shame."
Before his stint as a priest in Boonville, Howard — then known as Carmine Sita — pleaded guilty in 1983 to charges of sexual contact with a minor, in Jersey City, N.J., according to previous Missourian reporting.
Howard was sentenced to five years probation and completed a treatment program.
After changing his name, Howard was assigned to the Jefferson City diocese and worked at Saints Peter and Paul Parish in Boonville from September 1983 to November 1984, according to the grand jury indictment in 2010.
After his dismissal in 1984, he worked as a counselor at Charter Hospital in Columbia, a treatment center for people with substance abuse and mental health issues that has since closed, according to previous Missourian reporting.
Howard was arrested in New Jersey in April 2010, after he was indicted by a Cooper County grand jury, according to previous Missourian reporting.
Howard's attorney, Columbia-based James Rutter, filed a motion in July 2010 to have the case dismissed because the statute of limitations on the crimes had run out.
However, Koffman denied the motion in January 2013 after Abele argued that Howard used intimidation to hide his crimes and had been residing in another state.
In Missouri, once a prisoner turns 70, he or she can be eligible for parole after serving at least 40 percent of a sentence, Rutter said. Howard, 69, has already served four years in prison, meaning that he could be eligible for parole in a year.
However, Koffman told Howard that there was no guarantee that parole would be considered.
Supervising editor is Edward Hart.